Top Law Schools for Criminal Law

High-profile defendants. A bought jury. Impassioned closing arguments. Hostile cross-examinations.

While these courtroom dramas may make great movie plots, the day-to-day grind of practicing criminal law is much different. Instead of planted evidence and police corruption, lawyers face constitutional, procedural and legislative challenges related to their clients’ cases. Untangling these issues takes years of experience, however, so many schools have implemented courses, clinics and concentrations to fast-track students committed to criminal law.



At Baylor University School of Law, for instance, all students are required to participate in the practice court program, which walks students through all stages of a trial. Students who want additional instruction in criminal law can elect to take the professional track in criminal law, which provides training in subjects such as evidence and jury selection. Criminal-law-track students also participate in a weekend criminal law boot camp.

At Brooklyn Law School, students are stepping outside the classroom to participate in criminal-law-related clinics. Clinic offerings include three options. The first is the Clemency and Pardon Project, in which students represent individuals in connection with clemency and pardon petitions to the governor. Second is the Youth Reentry and Legal Services Clinic, where students assist in interviewing and advising clients with criminal records on their legal rights and obligations, obtaining and reviewing criminal histories, correcting errors, sealing appropriate records, and applying for certificates of relief from disabilities. Third is the BLS/EXI Innocence Clinic, in which students provide legal assistance to wrongfully convicted persons in New York with a focus on the most challenging cases  — those that lack DNA evidence.

Students at New York Law School move into the courtroom through the school’s Criminal Prosecution Clinic. The clinic partners with the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys’ offices, and students work with police officers, victims and witnesses to prosecute misdemeanor cases from arraignment through trial.

On the other side of the continent, students at University of California, Irvine School of Law represent low-income individuals charged with misdemeanors in state criminal court. Students also have the chance to work on broader criminal justice reform projects, such as assisting prisoners and the formerly incarcerated.

A lawyer’s role in the criminal justice system does not end after sentencing. Some clients may be subject to abuse during incarceration or need a case to be reopened after new evidence emerges. Students at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles have worked with the Loyola Project for the Innocent, or LPI, to release three clients from prison for crimes they did not commit. To secure these releases, students drafted petitions, conducted witness interviews, reviewed court transcripts and even presented at evidentiary hearings.

“Working on our cases at LPI has shown me that issues such as faulty eyewitness identification, police misconduct and bad forensics are pervasive problems that routinely obstruct justice and lead to wrongful convictions,” said third-year student Charlie Nelson Keever.

The law school recently announced its new Collateral Consequences of Conviction Project, which will provide free legal representation to those with criminal records seeking to reintegrate into society. 


Read the preLaw Back To School 2017 issue to see which schools made our Top Law Schools for Criminal Law.